The politics of stupidity

To my knowledge, this memo has not been sent, but it should:


From: Top Republican Officials

To: Party 2014 Candidates


Don’t do or say anything stupid. That is all.

And from the same guy, a note to the GOP members of the House and Senate seeking re-election: A “do-nothing Congress” is a good thing.

Or as one of them, Rep. Charlie Dent, told The New York Times: “It’s pretty clear to me in the House, we don’t want to make ourselves the issue.”

Unless they make themselves the issue by going crazy doing something like forcing the nation into humiliating default when the government’s borrowing authority runs out by March, or taking other extremist tea-party-fueled positions or uttering Neanderthal comments on social issues that give the Democrats new ammunition, the R’s have a good chance of taking control of both sides of the Capitol and turning the White House into a bunker.

Yes, this is an election year. All that happens on the Hill is nothing more than background music for a midterm congressional/pre-presidential campaign that will dominate everyone’s agenda from now till November and then beyond.

Certainly, the D’s are going to try and goad the R’s and back them into the corners of their harsh policies. We’re getting an early taste of that with legislation to extend unemployment benefits to desperate Americans whose big sin is not finding a job for a long long time. Add to that a push by the president and his party allies to raise the minimum wage to a slightly larger pittance and paint the opposition as heartless champions of the rich. A few of the top Republicans realize that as they dig in against any meaningful increase, they’re on treacherous ground given the perception that they’re the defenders of inequality in the United States.

The arguments are brought into even sharper focus right now as we mark 50 years of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty accompanied by charges from the Democrats that the right has really waged a war on the poor. So every GOP politician with presidential ambitions is trotting out to make speeches about how best to serve the have-nots. At its most basic, the debate comes down to this: Conservatives argue that improvements are best accomplished by keeping government out of the mix; liberals insist just the opposite.

Of course, it’s not that the Republicans are just going into a passive mode. They, too, are trying to exploit what they can paint as failures on the other side. From the start, they will do everything they can to keep Obamacare on the front burner, starting with their legislation that will attempt to exploit security weaknesses that aren’t there. Obviously the strategy is to take advantage of the awful start of and continue to bang the drum about shortcomings, real or imagined, as the Affordable Care Act lurches forward, or as House Majority Leader Eric Canto, the No. 2 guy in the GOP hierarchy, called it, a crusade “to protect the American people from the harmful effects of Obamacare.” The question is whether they’ll overplay the issue.

That would be foolish, which is what party leaders are trying to avoid. Of course, that is easier said than done. Look at what’s happening in New Jersey. The Democrats are having a field day. Suddenly, Gov. Chris Christie is completely tangled in a bizarre scandal, desperately trying to separate himself from the top aides who created those awful traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge, allegedly retaliation for not supporting Christie’s re-election, aimed at Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor.

Granted that mind-boggling episode is more about 2016 politics and Christie’s presidential flirtations, but it just goes to show that moronic and hateful actions or comments are always lurking. Predicting this year’s election? Now that would be stupid.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.


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